—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
Cats’ noses can be wet or dry, but do you know why? Some of it is related to evolution and some of it is reflective of their health.
Let’s take a look at how kitty noses work, what’s normal, and what may be something to monitor.
Reasons Why a Cat’s Nose Is Wet
There are two types of sweat glands in mammals: apocrine and eccrine.
Apocrine glands are located across a cat’s entire body because they work using hair follicles. In humans, these glands are located on our scalp, armpits, and groin.
Eccrine glands are located in hairless (or furless) areas on cats, like the nose, paw pads, and lips. In humans, these glands are across our entire bodies.
Now, there are a number of reasons that can cause a cat’s nose to sweat or become wet.
We sweat and the moisture evaporates to cool us off. The same thing happens for your cat.
A sweaty nose is just one way to help the cat maintain a comfortable body temperature.
Another way is from grooming themselves and the moisture evaporating off their fur and skin.
A cat that’s hot will have a moist, warm nose and paw pads. They may even leave footprints on surfaces from their sweat.
It’s not uncommon to observe a cat’s hot or moist nose when you’re en route to the vet. This is because stress elevates body temperature, and it’s your cat’s way to cool off.
Nervous or Anxious
Nervous and anxious cats often lick their lips and nose. It’s suspected this is displaced behavior, and it occurs when the cat can’t express their anxiety in another way.
If they’re at the vet but they can’t run to get away, they may lick their lips or nose or even start grooming themselves.
Better Scent Detection
Particles stick to wet surfaces, so either evolution is helping your cat’s nose stay wet through sweat or your cat may lick its nose to improve its sense of smell.
Cats have 200 million scent receptors in their nasal cavity, which is higher than the average dog, which has 150 million, but not higher than dogs that have been bred to have strong noses. German shepherds and a few other dogs have 225 million scent receptors, and bloodhounds have a staggering 300 million.
Analyze Pheromones or Scents
Cats also may lick their nose or simply stick out their tongues to gather more particles (remember, particles stick to moist surfaces). Then, they flick their tongue to the roof of their mouth, where ducts carry the particles to the vomeronasal organ, or Jacobson’s organ, which leads straight to the nose.
Although humans don’t have this organ, cats have a large and very productive Jacobson’s organ they use to “taste” what they smell. It contains 30 vomeronasal receptors (V1Rs) used to distinguish pheromones and scents.
By comparison, dogs have 9 V1Rs and humans only have 2 V1Rs.
When cats use this organ, their tongue is usually curled and their mouth open, with the appearance of a grimace. This is called the flehmen response.
Although pheromones are heavily used in mating and maternal behavior, they’re also tied to aggression and other behaviors. You may notice your cat making a Flehmen response if it smells a strong odor, like another cat’s urine or feces.
Reasons Why a Cat’s Nose Is Dry
Just because your cat has a dry nose doesn’t mean it’s sick. There are many reasons for a dry nose, and they are much less complicated than the reasons for a wet nose.
Cats don’t lick their nose while they’re sleeping, so it might be dry if they wake up from a long nap.
Vent, Fan, or Sun
When cats lay by a vent or fan or in the sunlight, it can sometimes cause their noses to become dry.
Sunburn or Other Skin Issues
Yup, cats can get sunburn on areas of their body that aren’t protected by fur. It’s also not uncommon for cats who get the fungus ringworm to have a patch of dry skin on their noses.
There can be other skin issues and trauma that affect the nose, including insect bites, so you should reach out to your vet if your cat’s nose is swollen, bleeding, crusty, oozing, or raw.
Dehydration or Illness
A dehydrated cat may have a dry nose, but not always, and sick cats are the same way. It’s important to look for other signs besides just the condition of the nose when deciding if your cat is ill.
Some cancers can also affect the nose.
Again, some cats just have dry noses!
Now you know why a cat’s nose is wet or dry, but exactly what’s normal and when do you loop your vet in? If a nose is overly wet, overly dry, overly warm, or overly cool, these are all reasons to check with your vet.
There may not be an issue, but anything that seems extreme is worth a call. You should also talk to your vet if you notice any change in what’s normal for your cat.
And if you notice something is up with your cat’s nose accompanied by vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or loss of appetite, you should make an appointment.
Stregowski, Jenna. The Spruce Pets, Warm and Dry Noses in Cats.
Canidae, How the 5 Senses Differ Between Dogs and Cats.
Butwell, Lisa. Vet Help Direct, Why Is My Cat Tasting the Air?
AIMSS, Do Dogs and Cats Sweat?
Johnson-Bennett, Pam, What Is the Vomeronasal Organ?
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist